Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture shuts down seed-sharing program at local library…

Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture shuts down seed-sharing program at local library…

A good piece in Grist about a local seed-sharing program that attracted the attention of the state ag department.  Interesting occurrence, unfortunate circumstances and results.

It started this way. A local group called the Cumberland County Commission for Women had heard of a new thing that local libraries were doing — creating lending libraries for seeds. Someone found an old card catalog and turned it into seed packet storage. Someone else got advice from the local Penn State Ag Extension office. With the help of the librarians at Joseph T. Simpson, they launched the project in April, on Earth Day.

Then, in June, the library received a letter from Johnny Zook, seed program supervisor at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The missive informed the library that it was in violation of the Seed Act of 2004. You can read the correspondence because the Simpson Seed Library, like the good librarians they are, posted it on their website.

It would be easy to brand this as "Big Evil Government," mutter "Damn the Man!" and go on about your day.

But reading this, I got the impression that what happened here was much more a case of well-intentioned people on both sides of an issue, who merely lacked the appropriate mechanisms and frameworks to interact in a mutually productive way... namely a state agency that feels as though they have a clear mandate and that they are locked into a procedure that must be followed.

However, the danger of such policies being recognized and co-opted as legal leverage against local/community sustainable agriculture practices is potentially a concern, as is the chilling effect that occurrences like this one may create.

To me, the issue and the answer is clear.  If the systems and processes in place don't allow for communities and individuals to do something as simple and necessary as share the means to grow food in their own gardens, then the system and processes need to be revised.

Simple as that.

The onions have been cured…

The onions have been cured…

And I didn't even know they were sick! (wakka, wakka).

This is the first year we've really actually grown onions with any serious intent.  We used onion mini-bulbs this year to help make the process simpler, and got a reasonably good harvest despite doing little with them besides taking them out of the paper bag they came in and sticking them the dirt. (my kind of crop!)

Growing them was easy, but we've been painstakingly (emphasis on pain) curing the onions for over three weeks now.  To "cure" them so they dry and store properly, they have to be left out in the sun for a day, and then left for three weeks in a shady place with good air circulation and no chance of getting rained on or eaten by anything.

Sounds simple, until you try to find that place.  The basement with a fan would be ideal, except then you'll have onions off-gassing the house full of onion smell for three weeks.  I'm not even sure I'd mind, but Leah (who actually has a functioning sense of smell and remembers our similar approach to the garlic harvest last year) nixed the idea.  We tried in the shade of our porch, but the mega-storms that ensued in the following weeks meant we couldn't guarantee they'd stay dry.

The greenhouse is still way too hot for them.  And we have several "out buildings", but you might as well add some parsley as garnish, because at that point you're essentially feeding them to the local fauna  (do raccoons like onions?  Let's just assume they do).

Onion Harvest 2014

In the end, we ended up stacking the trays in the garage, and tried to leave the door open as much as possible.  Which must have worked out okay, because we only had to toss one had started going rotty/soft on us.

A big ol' digital hat tip to Garden Betty, whose guide on curing onions steered us right in our efforts.

So now, hopefully we'll have a good-sized stash of onions that we can eat on during the upcoming months.  And these onions really are tasty... spicy and full of flavor.  I'd like to try growing even more at some point... as cheap as the starter bulbs are, the only real constraint is garden space.

Lessons learned:

1) Start with small bulbs, not green onion sets.  
Has anyone ever seen onion sets at the store that look healthy?  
I don't think I've ever seen them where they don't look 2/3 dead already.

2) More sun = bigger onions.
We planted the same onions across a pretty wide range of sun exposure this year, and the results weren't subtle.  Without fail, the onions we pulled were bigger and better the more sun they were getting during the day.  
No more onions in partial shade!